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Chesterfield, USA

Welcome to the unsung rural heartland that you've never heard of, just minutes from downtown Salt Lake City



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Not everyone, though, is a fan of Chesterfield. One former dealer who spent a year in Chesterfield in 2010, describes the community as an unwitting refuge for white supremacists seeking to hide out. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from gang members he associated with.

"All these gang members have family members who live there and were raised in poverty," he says. "They purchased a house in Chesterfield and never left." Drug-related activity, he says, takes place in "somebody's mom's house, in a basement, in a garage, or a back yard. It's like this place in the middle of Salt Lake where everybody goes to hide. And it works."

Between midnight and 4 a.m., he would sit in someone's garage "smoking meth constantly and waiting for people to come over with stolen shit and trade it for drugs."


Outsiders, he says, are not welcome. "There was this underlying tone of something about to happen, something about to pop off," when he went out there. "If you didn't grow up there, and they didn't know who the fuck you are, something will happen to you."

Whatever the late-night gang activity, Sgt. Gray says contemporary Chesterfield is "a lot cleaner and quieter" than it was when he worked it. And credit for that, at least in part, he says, should go to West Valley City's compliance division.

Code-enforcement officer Ricardo Ramos, who has patrolled Chesterfield for 11 years, says his former boss told him all that mattered was, given Chesterfield's challenging nature, "Keep it clean and tidy."

He points to new houses that replaced near-derelict drug houses, where dozens of cars once congregated late at night. Then he slows down in front of a boarded-up property that belonged to a deported Peruvian man. Now, a bank owns it. "Banks are one of the biggest problems," he says. "They are slow to respond. $1,000 fine for them, it's just change."

One house close to the Trax line has been used as a dumping ground by its owner, Ramos says. Several cars, a 5-foot-tall lump of cement and acetylene tanks litter the yard. That morning, Ramos sent the owner a warning citation. If the owner does not act within 10 days, fines of $100-$400 per day will begin accruing. That same morning, Ramos is preparing to serve a $68,000 fine for numerous code violations to a property owner he cannot locate.

With Chesterfield, a code-enforcer's work is never done. "You start at one end, you work your way through, Ramos says. "Then, the next year, you start again."


As much as Chesterfield resembles a country-lane refuge for those who value open space over curb-and-gutter improvements, it also provides a home for two nonprofits that provide shelter for wildlife. One is a sanctuary for abused and neglected horses, the other for rescued birds.

The Stable Place on Cassell Street was founded by Jayme Alexander. She moved to Chesterfield in 1999, after she found a 1 1/2-acre lot where she could keep her horses. "If people like you in the neighborhood, you won't have any problem," she recalls being told.

Alexander, a former truck driver, worked with Valley Mental Health and a private residential treatment facility helping children with behavioral issues work with traumatized horses. One horse had been beaten and was underweight, its mouth scarred from a previous owner using barbed wire as a bit to stop it from bolting. Another horse was rescued by Alexander's friend from a Vernal kill pen where horses are auctioned to be sent to Mexico and Canada for meat. "We take in in-need horses, we rehabilitate them, and we teach kids natural horsemanship," says Alexander. The children and the horses, she says, "both get rehab, so to speak." The horses are rehabilitated and adopted out. In total, Alexander says they've placed 30 horses "in their forever homes."


Alexander says Chesterfield "is the best place to live ever." Her daughter, Willow, rides a pony-drawn buggy to the local school, the American Preparatory Academy. The pony cart, Alexander says, "makes people smile." Chesterfield, she adds, "is our little inner-city paradise."

Several streets away is Avian Sanctuary and Protection, a bird refuge run by Richard Nowak. "If you are going to live in Chesterfield, you have to accept there are animals here," Nowak says, describing the neighborhood as a small oasis. He continues, "It depends which way the wind blows, as far as you know which animals are in which yards."

Nowak has a lot of avian company on his small property, taking in 326 birds in 2014. While no-kill shelters may spare cats and dogs, he says birds are euthanized after a week, so local shelters often bring them to him. Many of his feathered charges live in a 1970s-model single-wide trailer. "It's the only three-bedroom, two-bathroom chicken coop in the neighborhood," he says.

As he walks around his refuge, he's followed by Mr. T, a turkey that determinedly puffs up its plumage as it thrums, then softly rasps against the ground as it walks. Nowak sits in the front yard while, behind him, a parakeet named Charlie repeatedly squawks, "Come on in," and several African geese hiss protectively as he holds several chicks in his hand to feed them.

A quarter mile from Nowak's home-come-sanctuary, a natural bird refuge marks Chesterfield's eastern boundary. The Salt Lake County-owned Redwood Nature Area is a 63-acre mix of restored riparian wetland and manmade ponds and streams that feed its wetlands. John Sanders, Alexander's partner at The Stable Place, says this border means that Chesterfield—and their little horse farm—"has its own little nook of isolation."

The county purchased the land back in the 1960s. The effort to restore it to wetlands didn't begin in earnest until 2002. It remains one of the very few undeveloped larger spaces in the valley. Salt Lake County's Parks & Recreation director Lynn Larsen says the river is a "flyway for bird migration." Shorebirds such as avocets visit during their annual migrations. While some invasive plant species still remain, much of the wetlands now boasts poplars and bulrushes—an indication, Larsen says, that he and his volunteers are having success "keeping things as they were."


While the reserve provides a bulwark against development to the east, residents argue the future of Chesterfield is further cemented by its five religious institutions: an LDS ward house near a business park on Chesterfield's northern edge, the First Apostolic Church, the Khadeeja mosque, the United Methodist Tongan Church and Jehovah's Witnesses' Kingdom Hall.


The First Apostolic was a former LDS ward house that was subsequently purchased by a religious group whose members angered local Mormons with their hostility toward the LDS faith—even running an anti-Mormon radio show.

In 1986, First Apostolic Pastor William Fitzgerald purchased the 1950s ward house for $65,000, he says. Children threw rocks at the windows, so he set out on a meet-and-greet campaign to distinguish his live-and-let-live attitude from the prior church's anti-LDS rhetoric. The First Apostolic has grown over the years to include a Spanish-language congregation that shares the building. Members believe in the literal word of the Bible and speak in tongues during the service "when the Holy Ghost is inside of us," Fitzgerald says.

With the addition of three new churches in the past 15 years and the American Preparatory Academy (APA) charter school, which opened in 2009, some residents believe the amount of traffic and activity these properties bring protects the community from further development. "Now they'll have a harder time of getting rid of us," Louise Griggs says.

Living one street over from Griggs, Mary Gordon—a 10-year resident whose daughter attends the APA—says the school "is the best thing that ever happened to this neighborhood" and has enhanced Chesterfield's crusty sense of community.

APA has 575 students grades K-9, 75 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced lunches. While predominantly a commuter school, some children from Chesterfield attend, although fewer than in the academy's first years when staff walked its streets, telling neighbors about the new school and encouraging parents to sign up for an enrollment lottery. Currently, the Chesterfield APA has 708 names on its waiting list.

Children in uniforms clap enthusiastically, leaning forward in their chairs, as they recite the Gettysburg Address from start to finish. Administrative director Debra Davies says APA's founder, Carolyn Sharette, opened her first school in a relatively comfortable Draper neighborhood, and was looking for "a place opposite of Draper," demographically, for her second school.

Chesterfield residents, Davies says, were excited by the school's opening. "Someone saw value in this community," she says. Still, it didn't go off without a few minor hitches: "The first day, we had a horse bite," Davies says. "Goats got over the fence and were running up and down the parking lot."


Although residents feel the churches and the school have been positive additions to their community, there is a downside: the rush of traffic to and from these institutions on roads that were once quiet. "People speed through here like it's nothing," Gordon says.


Along with the influx of churches and students, Chesterfield has also seen a growing Latino presence, reflected in the evenings by elegant Mexican cowboys exercising their horses on the streets.

Jose Martinez-Hernandez came to Utah eight years ago pursuing his dream of owning a restaurant. In Utah, he found a small shuttered restaurant on Redwood Road and Crystal Avenue on the western outskirts of Chesterfield. Its owner was operating a taco stand outside a salón de baile (dance hall). "It was bad, fallen," Martinez-Hernandez says in Spanish. He re-opened the restaurant under the same name of El Calor [The Heat] and built a menu that his cousin, Maribel says, defines what "authentic" Mexican food truly means. "It's like eating at home, it's exactly the Mexican taste," Maribel says. "If we want Mexican food, here's where we come."

Martinez-Hernandez serves handmade tortillas and his own specialty: mutton barbecue aka barbacoa de Borrego. Come the weekend, he says Latino families arrive from all over the Wasatch Front to eat there. Several years ago, he bought a home in Chesterfield a half block from his restaurant. "It feels like home," he says.


Refugees and families of Mexican descent who moved in over the past 20 years found in Chesterfield's agricultural zoning an opportunity to re-create the homes they left behind. West Valley City code enforcement officer Ricardo Ramos says he's encountered people of many nationalities who "come here, and it's like they still live like they did back in the old country. They tell me, 'This reminds me of my homeland.'"

That's a sentiment Jose Luis Pimentel shares. On a Friday afternoon, Mexican music wafts across an unpaved street from his home, which resembles more a rancho than a Utah agricultural holding. Bare-chested, Pimentel walks around his farm, reflecting in Spanish on crossing the Sonora desert at age 15 in search of the American Dream, with nothing more than a two-gallon bottle of water. It took him eight days to cross the border, plagued by snakes and scorpions. "It was an adventure, but it was very ugly," he says in Spanish.

He's worked for 29 years, he says, without a vacation, and he's tired. He started as a migrant farm laborer, then landscaper, construction worker and, finally, a restaurant worker. In 1994, he bought a house in Kearns but wanted to have a place where he could keep goats and horses, as his family did on their rancho in Mexico where he grew up. Several years ago, he discovered Chesterfield and bought a near-derelict property that was half-buried in garbage. It took many trips to the dump to clear it out, he says.


Pimentel shows off his goats and chickens, the latter of which he takes to markets in Provo and Ogden. His pride, though, is a statuesque, well-endowed black thoroughbred, which he calls El Pito (Spanish slang for "the penis"). He takes his horse out for exercise around Chesterfield's streets, where he knows most of the people and regards them as friends.


Code-enforcement officer Ramos believes that Chesterfield, with its churches, its residents from many countries and its backwoods, country feel will remain faithful to its identity. "I think West Valley City has something like a hidden gem that I don't think any other city in the valley has."

The northwestern gateway to that gem is guarded on Redwood Road by a 45-year-old Union Labor Center, home to various union offices. Soft-spoken ironworker union rep Mike McDonald lived in Chesterfield after he married his wife who grew up there. "We bulldogged [steer-wrestled] and pretended like we were cowboys on Sunday and got drunk," he says.


It seems fitting that Chesterfield should have such a bastion of blue-collar values as the labor center watching over it. The old-timers, like McDonald, "guard [the center] with our lives," he says.

That kind of passion is evident in Louise Grigg's face as she talks about the land she has lived on nearly all her life. She gets up in the early hours for her job at L-3 Communications, working on computer boards. As she walks through her gate, she glances up each morning at the illuminated large cross, mounted on the Tongan church's roof, shining down through the trees.

"If I want to say something to God, I do," she says. Griggs looks around her garden as dark rainclouds gather overhead, and she prepares to head indoors. "I watched all these trees grow," she says about the poplars that huddle around her garden and shelter it from the silent street. Then, in simple terms any Chesterfield resident would understand, she says, "I'll die here," with a grateful smile.